The government is spending millions of pounds lobbying itself and threatening the independence of charities, according to new research released today by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).
The Sock Doctrine outlines how charities in receipt of government money are engaging in political activism such as campaigns to hike the price of alcohol and ban 'junk food' adverts.
The report examines 25 state-funded charities and finds support for a host of politically charged campaigns, such as a financial transactions tax and an ever increasing foreign aid budget.
Here are just two examples highlighted in the report:
For the year 2011/2012, Sustain received north of £550,000 of taxpayers' money, equal to 24.8 per cent of its total income. The organisation campaigns for bans on 'junk food' at supermarket checkouts and children's advertising.
Balance North East
Received 100 per cent of its funding from the government in 2013, with £1.4m awarded to it from local authorities. It claims that "alcohol plays too big a role in the lives of many of us in the North East. This has to change". Balance North East campaigns to make alcohol "less affordable; reduce its availability and restrict its promotion."
The report also draws attention to how the third sector disproportionately skews to the political left, with 77 per cent of those in charities and quangos willing to express a political preference, declaring their support for the Labour party in 2011.
This has risen dramatically from the last year of John Major's government when the figure was a more modest 32 per cent.
The dominance of government funding in the charitable sector has led some charities to express concerns over political interference, leaving them reluctant to campaign on issues appropriate to their mission.
The report's recommendations for ending government funded political activism included:
- Government notifying all departments that statutory funding is not to be used to lobby politicians or to publish material designed to generate support for the introduction or abolition of legislation, regulation and taxation.
- Any organisation that receives grants from central or local government should be subject to the same Freedom of Information obligations as a government agency.
- No start-up funds should be granted to any new NGOs, charities or activist groups.
- Unrestricted grants should not be given to any third party organisation. They should be replaced by restricted grants and contracts in all circumstances.
- Charities should be required by the Charity Commission to publish how much of their income comes from statutory sources (as a total and as a proportion of income).
The report's author Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the IEA, commented:
By crowding out privately-funded voluntary organisations, this taxpayer-funded bloc of charities, quangos and NGOs subverts the democratic process. It is vital that measures are introduced to prevent state-funded political activism and make taxpayers aware of how their money is being spent. Charities and NGOs that are dependent on government funding are not independent of government.